Progesterone’s role in mental health

June 30, 2008

Last week I talked about testosterone and this week there is more news on the hormone front – but this time about progesterone. This is one of the key reproductive hormones in women, but it also has a host of other functions; one of the most important being it’s effect on brain chemistry and function. Dr. John Lee, the American pioneer of natural progesterone usage for osteoporosis, once was quoted as saying famously said that if anyone in his family had a brain injury, he would slather them with progesterone cream. He said that over ten years ago, and as ever he was ahead of his time, as new research has vindicated what must have seemed a completely lunatic idea.

Sadly Dr Lee was not given the respect of his peers, but I was privileged to host several seminars for him in London and he was certainly one of the most generous and compassionate of men, as the many thousands of women who benefited from his research have proved. He has been vindicated on the brain chemistry front by a fellow doctor working in an ER department and who saw a lot of saw a lot of head injuries. He was curious about why brain injuries were worse in men than in women, and got approval to do a study in which brain injury patients were given injections of progesterone when they arrived in the ER. His research showed that those who received the progesterone did significantly better than those who didn’t and later studies have also shown the same result.

Around the same time, researchers discovered that progesterone was a key component of the myelin sheath that protects or insulates the nerves-so important in fact that progesterone is made in the myelin sheath. Other research showed that progesterone stimulates the brain’s GABA receptors, those feel-good, calming neurotransmitters. Now we know, according to this review paper, that “…progesterone has multiple non- reproductive functions in the central nervous system to regulate cognition, mood, inflammation, mitochondrial function, neurogenesis and regeneration, myelination and recovery from traumatic brain injury.” Furthermore, progesterone is everywhere in the brain: “Remarkably, PRs [progesterone receptors] are broadly expressed throughout the brain and can be detected in every neural cell type.”

Those who have experienced the mental fog of hormone imbalances – otherwise known as the ‘what did I come into this room for ‘syndrome – can now point to their brain and say, “It’s not me that’s confused, it’s my brain!”


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